Langenhagen (Germany) – Break open the bubbly because the spinning media that most pivotally began the worldwide transition to digital entertainment is 25 years old today.
On August 17, 1982, an assembly line in a suburb of Hanover, Germany began pumping out a modest collection of laser-encoded palm-sized discs, officially paving the path for what would later become the most popular album format.
According to Philips, the first CD was ABBA’s The Visitors, an album that is now available on iTunes. CD players were brought to the market in Germany for the 1982 holiday season, by which time nearly 150 albums were already available. The format made its way to the US the following spring.
The Compact Disc was created from a partnership between Philips and Sony. Philips created most of the core technology while Sony helped with digital encoding for smooth playback. The two would later square off against each other in the 1990s as Sony’s MiniDisc went in direct competition with Philips’ Digital Compact Cassette. Though MiniDisc gained more widespread adoption, neither format was considered a success.
At the time, there was no emerging technology really competing against the CD format. Its biggest battle was against vinyl records, an institution by the 1980s, whih still remains the longest-running home audio format in the United States.
Sony and Philips also had to contend with video formats that had already tried to move into the digital age. A contentious battle between CED and Laserdisc resulted in two big losers. It was a risky time for digital technology, but the two companies ended up making the right product at the right time. According to Philips, over 200 billion CDs have been sold to date. That averages out to more than 250 CDs sold every second for the past 25 years. Philips says that every CD ever sold, if stacked on top of each other, would circle the earth six times.
It’s a bittersweet milestone for the legendary format, as the outlook for the Compact Disc looks grim. Audio CDs are rapidly being replaced with digital music players, CD-ROMs have been scrapped for the higher capacity DVD-ROM format, and rewritable CD sales are on a decline.
However, the main technology for the CD is the backbone for DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray discs. The foundation set by Sony and Philips will remain a crucial part of entertainment mediums for years to come.